Republicans Aren’t Seeking Shutdown, Budget Chair Ryan Says

Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan
Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Photographer: Jay Mallin/Bloomberg

Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Republicans aren’t seeking to force a shutdown of the federal government and would negotiate a stop-gap accord with Democrats that includes “interim” spending cuts.

“We’ll have some negotiations, with short-term extensions with spending cuts in the interim, is my guess,” the Wisconsin Republican said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “We’re not looking for a government shutdown.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 235-189 yesterday to slash at least $61 billion from current spending, setting the stage for a fight with Democrats that threatens to bring government to a standstill after March 4 when the current continuing resolution expires. Senate Democrats have balked at the cuts while Republicans are saying they will agree to a temporary extension of spending authority only if it includes reductions in funding.

“I won’t support a CR (continuing resolution) unless it has some spending cuts,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and a member of the Budget Committee, told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” echoing House Speaker John Boehner’s remarks of last week.

“I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters on Feb. 17.

‘Decent Chance’ of Shutdown

Peter Morici, a professor of business at the University of Maryland in College Park, said there is a “decent chance” of a partial government shutdown, as occurred in late 1995 and early 1996 during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

“There’s no way the Democrats are going to pass in the Senate a continuing resolution acceptable to House Republicans, or vice versa,” said Morici. “Each side is going to try to blame the other,” he said.

Following the previous shutdown, which pitted Clinton against Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans lost support. “After the shutdown, Gingrich was unable to hold his caucus together,” said Morici. President Barack Obama “is gambling that centrist Republicans will spin off.”

Shutdown as Leverage

Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, today accused Boehner of using talk of a government shutdown as leverage in the budget battle.

“Many Republicans have said a shutdown is a good thing,” Schumer said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “One thinks they want to use the shutdown to get their way.”

The $1.2 trillion spending bill approved by the House yesterday would ban funds for Obama’s health-care overhaul and for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions. It also would scrap “net neutrality” Internet rules and block regulations on greenhouse gases and for-profit colleges. The White House has threatened a presidential veto.

The legislation seeks to fund the government for the remaining seven months of the current fiscal year, which expires Sept. 30. Current spending authority ends March 4, and without a continuing resolution the government will shut down.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, said the Republicans have taken a “weed-whacker” approach to spending cuts, especially in education. She said she is willing to approve some reductions in current spending in order to get agreement.

Bipartisanship Needed

Senators Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and assistant majority leader, and Republicans Graham and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma agreed on the need to work together to avoid a shutdown.

“I hope we’ll find a way to resolve this by reducing spending in a bipartisan fashion,” Graham said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Durbin said on the same program that any shutdown of the government would be “an absolute, utter failure” and urged both parties to “sit down” and negotiate an accord.

“I don’t think we are” faced with a government shutdown, said Coburn, who served on Obama’s deficit panel along with Durbin, on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “I think nobody wants that to happen, and I think everybody realizes that we have to make some significant cuts.”

Conrad’s Warning

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said his Democratic-controlled chamber will reduce this year’s budget by about half what House Republicans are demanding. The North Dakota Democrat has warned that the federal government may grind to a halt if Boehner won’t negotiate.

The Republican plan “will not be successful in the Senate, even though I think virtually everybody understands we’ve got to cut spending,” Conrad said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.

Ryan said on “Face the Nation” that Republicans will propose “serious solutions” to reducing the deficit. “We can’t keep borrowing, can’t keep spending and making empty promises to people.”

Appearing on the same program, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the budget panel, said the economy needs to be “fully in gear” before the government can make the dramatic cuts proposed by Republicans.

Risk to Recovery

“Our view is: Put together a plan now for serious deficit reduction, including serious spending cuts, but don’t risk the fragile recovery,” Van Hollen said.

Obama sent Congress a $3.7 trillion budget last week for fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The document projects the federal deficit will exceed $1 trillion for the fourth straight year in 2012 before falling to lower levels by the middle of the decade. The deficit for the current year is forecast to hit a record $1.6 trillion, or 10.9 percent of gross domestic product, up from the $1.4 trillion the administration previously estimated.

The Republican plan for the current fiscal year, subject to more than 90 hours of debate prior to yesterday’s vote, would kill more than 100 programs and cut funding for hundreds more.

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